Remembering the Holocaust and the Jewish Past in Kraków, 1980-2013

  • Jan Gryta

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the ways in which the Holocaust and the Jewish past have been remembered in Kraków, investigates the impact local memory work has had on Polish collective memory, and problematises the importance of the 1989 threshold for that memory work. Looking at Kraków, an exceptional and exceptionally important case study, between 1980 and 2013, the thesis investigates heritage creations in Kazimierz, the old Jewish Town, and traces the genealogies of Holocaust exhibitions presented in Kraków. It also traces the emergence of urban critical narratives about the past, pertaining both to the city and to Poland as a whole. Created in opposition to the mainstream ethno-nationalist narrative, which was often supported by both the Communist and the democratic governments, the interpretation of the past laid out in Kraków gradually incorporated the Jewish past into the narrative on Polish history. The thesis demonstrates how, over the course of thirty years, Jews came to be presented as rightful members of the Polish national community, and the Holocaust as an integral part of Polish war history, albeit still distinct to other sufferings.At the forefront of the process of excavating and presenting Kraków's Jewish past were local memory activists. In particular, this thesis highlights the pivotal role played by mid-ranking officials from municipal administration and by fictive kinships in the process of urbanisation of memory. These individuals and groups translated the ideas of critical engagement with the nation's history, propagated by some sections of the national elite, into a form that could be consumed by a mass audience. In addition, the thesis demonstrates that memory work on a local level persisted almost uninterrupted through the transition to democracy. Activists responsible for the creation of inclusive narratives in the 1980s, and the Krakowian intelligentsia in general, carried those ideas forward through the collapse of Communism - no radical reformulation of representations of the Jewish past or the Holocaust took place in the early 1990s. The local narratives grew progressively more critical and increasingly more cosmopolitan from the 1980s onward, but this process only truly accelerated after 2010. The present thesis argues that this post-2010 intensification was only possible after local activists had embraced new forms of commemoration and new modes of authentication within museum exhibitions. In particular it points toward the espousal of 'complementary authenticities,' a mode of authentication of narratives strongly anchored in history that at the same time aimed to incite an emotional response. This incorporation of 'complementary authenticities' allowed for the creation of narratives that sensitised audiences to the suffering of Poles regardless of their ethnic background. Thus the thesis relates the developments of memory work in Kraków to broader changes in culture, rather than solely to changes in political life.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorEwa Ochman (Supervisor) & Cathy Gelbin (Supervisor)


  • Jewish
  • Kraków
  • Holocaust
  • memory
  • history
  • Poland

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